Thursday, April 29, 2010

Listening to Him or Experiencing Him

On the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus’ three cowering disciples heard a heavenly voice: "This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!" (Mark 9:7). There was nothing unusual about this message. Jesus often admonished His disciples to obey Him (Matthew 5:24-27; John 14:21-24) and to abide in His Word (John 15:10). This was how Israel had always been directed to love their God (Deut. 10:12).

Instead, this had been a voice from heaven, reinforcing what the disciples had already been instructed. It is noteworthy that the voice didn’t proclaim “experience Him” or “visualize Him” or “channel Him” instead of “listen to Him!” While the Bible often instructs us to obey or to listen to God, it never hints about even trying the other three alternatives.

This is so important for us today, especially since that are many teachings advising us experience, visualize, or channel Jesus and insist that if we don’t learn these techniques, we are missing out.

The late mystic, Henry Nouwen, wrote, “The quiet repetition of a single word can help us to descend with the mind into the heart…This way of simple prayer…opens us to God’s active presence.”

Besides being unscriptural – Jesus taught that we aren’t blessed because of the repetition of meaningless words (Mat. 6:7; also 1 Cor. 14:6). Nor need we be concerned about missing out on “God’s active presence.” We are already assured that we have a God who never leaves us (Heb. 13:5) and is always at work, blessing our lives (Rom. 8:28).

After Moses had arguably the greatest mountain top experience after spending forty days with God, he shared God’s Word with the Israelites. No one asked Him what it was like to experience God. Instead, all knew that blessedness wasn’t a matter of experiencing God but obeying Him (Exo. 34:29-35). Opening themselves “to God’s active presence,” was never a concern for Israel. Rather, they feared it, and for good reason.

In Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster approaches the blessings of God in a slightly different way – through visualization:

“Imagine the light of Christ flowing through your hands and healing every emotional trauma and hurt feeling your child experienced that day. Fill him or her with the peace and joy of the Lord. In sleep the child is very receptive to prayer since the conscious mind, which tends to erect barriers to God’s gentle influence, is relaxed.” (39)

Foster insists that we have the capacity to envision and to channel Christ’s healing blessings to others. This is highly presumptuous. Instead, James warns us against a presumption and boasting that is far more innocent than Foster’s proposal. James speaks only against those boasts pertaining to our doing and accomplishing certain things (James 4:13-16). Foster goes far beyond this form of hubris. Not only can we make certain guarantees about our own life, according to Foster, we can also commandeer Jesus into our services and channel His healing powers without regard for His will in these matters!

To make matters even worse, Foster also claims that God is very limited. According to him, the “conscious mind…erects [insurmountable] barriers” against God’s grace. In contrast to this, the Bible assures us that it’s our sin and rebellion that that prevent us from receiving God’s grace. It’s not a matter of His weakness, but our stubbornness.

Foster is only one of many Christian mystics and healers who claim that the answer to blessing is through the imagination. One such teacher would put the hurting Christian into a state of relaxation and then have us imagine taking Jesus by the hand and leading him back into our traumas in order to have Him heal them.

The mystics add an additional and offensive presumption – that without their techniques, we will miss out on the grace of Christ. In contrast to this, we are guaranteed that if we have Christ – forget about learning any mystical techniques – we are assured that we are completely protected and graced (Rom. 8:31-32; Col. 2:9-10).

I marvel that the Church is forsaking the simple message of “listening to Him.” Sadly, words and theology hold little attraction for this postmodern world. Eckhart Tolle, Oprah Winfrey’s New Age guru, raises one common objection:

“If you go deep enough in your religion, then you all get to the same place It’s a question of going deeper, so there’s no conflict here. The important thing is that religion doesn’t become an ideology…the moment you say 'only my belief' or 'our belief' is true, and you deny other people’s beliefs, then you’ve adopted an ideology [theology]. And then religion becomes a closed door.”

Everyone has their ideology, as even Tolle’s words so clearly demonstrate about his own ideology. Instead, the question should be, “Do I have a theology or ideology that accords with reality and helps me to see it and to direct my steps in a fruitful direction?”

This is why it’s so important to listen to Jesus. His words lead us to health and blessing. They also reprove us when our heart is wrong. Before Scripture convinced me that salvation was completely a free gift, and that all I had to do was to trust in Jesus with my feeble faith, I was tormented and couldn’t turn away from obsessing about my own failures and inadequacies. Listening to Jesus freed me (John 8:31-32) and enabled me to accept my own unworthiness (Luke 17:10) and to esteem the riches I now have in Him. He has won my ear!

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